Once again, I came from a culture where you were made fun of if you forgot your pocket knife on a school trip. Then I entered a post-Columbine/Zero Tolerance hell. I hadn’t used or even removed my knife from my bag while in school, but I did use it to cut a twig on my way home from school one day, and was apparently seen by one of my classmates. The next day, I was called into the principal’s office where my mother and a police officer waited. The police officer padded me down and searched my bag, obviously finding my knife (which was confiscated). He then escorted me and my mother off school grounds and I was told not to come back until the school called.
He ended up with a probation officer, a social worker, and being sent to a special school for discipline problems, all of whom said he was wronged. There’s a lot more detail in the full post, with a bonus anecdote about a more serious offense (by any sane standard) that drew lesser punishment.
I have to say, my first reaction was pretty much identical to one of the early comments:
And you did not file a huge civil rights lawsuit and make a media circus of this because… ???
Insert the usual caveats about plural anecdotes and confirmation bias, but this is the sort of thing I heard a lot of from my father, who spent thirty-odd years teaching sixth grade in a public school. Good kids get harsh, by-the-book punishments, while genuinely disruptive kids are often allowed to slide by with minimal response.
The thing a lot of these cases have in common is the reaction of the parents. The genuinely disruptive kids who stay in school despite repeated offenses often have genuinely disruptive parents who get all up in the faces of teachers and school administrators who try to do something about the problems caused by their kids. The good kids who get slammed, on the other hand, have parents who go along quietly, and only vent about it to friends or years later in carefully anonymized blog posts.
While I am not, in general, a big fan of rapid-fire lawsuits, I can’t help thinking that the easiest way to fix this problem is for parents of kids like the one in this story to adopt the tactics of the parents of disruptive kids. I don’t know if the kid in question would actually have had a winnable legal case (courts give an absurd amount of leeway to schools on some issues– strip-searching a girl suspected of Advil possession made it all the way to the Supreme Court, for God’s sake), but I’m pretty sure it could’ve been used to generate a bunch of embarrassing press coverage for the school, and possibly some legal bills. That’s the sort of threat that makes the sort of school officials who are so skittish that they expel kids for having a Swiss army knife think twice.
The most effective response to this sort of thing is probably “When we leave this meeting, my first phone call will be to the ACLU. The second phone call will be to the local TV station.” In this age of cell phones, you could probably threaten to call them from inside the school.
Of course, the proper solution would be for the school officials to exercise a bit of discretion and do the right thing by kids who aren’t a perpetual nuisance. Sadly, that doesn’t seem likely to happen, so the best way to force it might be to hit them with lawsuits from both directions. And that’s a sad statement about the state of society.